Is Your Dog Depressed?


People often don’t realize that dogs suffer from depression just as we do. Usually, when animals suffer from depression it is environmentally caused, and based on their social interactions, or lack thereof, with other animals, including people.

The most common causes of depression in dogs are lack of physical exercise, lack of mental stimulation, loneliness, and being scolded or punished too frequently by people. Instead of teaching dogs positively, through praise and reward, people tend to punish dogs before they teach dogs what to do. Dogs are reprimanded or corrected inconsistently for behaviors that are often reinforced, albeit unintentionally, by humans. Inconsistency and frequent punishments will make a dog’s world



unpredictable. This will cause the dog to be anxious and depressed. Depression is when an animal gives up hope. The animal has succumbed to despair and assumes that no positive change will take place or occur.

If you suspect your dog is unhappy, lonely or depressed, you are probably right. Animals are very much in the moment. They express how they are feeling, what they are taught, and what they know, through their behaviors. By observing how your dog behaves, you can learn a lot about your dog.

If you think your dog is depressed, here are some questions to ask yourself.

Is your dog exercised? Do you mentally stimulate your dog? Do you give your dog attention and affection? If so, how often?

Dogs are pack animals. They are incredibly social. It is unnerving and very isolating for a dog to be left alone. Because dogs are inherently communal, they are very dependent on, and sensitive to, the behaviors of others. Their relationships and interactions with others are based on cooperation and deference. If a dog is under-stimulated, physically or mentally, and/or is not given positive feedback, or positive attention or affection on an on-going basis, chances are the dog is unhappy.

Does your dog sleep all day? When your dog gets up, do you tell your dog to go lay down again?

If your dog is young and sleeps all day, your dog has probably resigned himself to being alone, or to not bothering you. Although your dog may not be actively rummaging through the garbage, tearing up the pillows, or seeking your attention, if your dog sleeps a lot, there is a good chance your dog is depressed.

Do you keep your dog in a cage over four hours a day?

If your dog remains in a crate or cage for hours on end, he will be under-simulated and under-exercised. The pent up energy a dog accumulates by over-crating is simply too much to bear. As a result, the dog responds to any little trigger with overexcitement or over-stimulation. This causes people to react and become upset. Usually, they reprimand the dog or yell at the dog for misbehaving, which results in more crate time and confinement. This causes a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Dogs who are overly-crated often end up depressed. Chaining a dog outside, or tying a dog out by himself for too long, will also cause a dog to become anxious and depressed.

Does your dog self-lick or chew at himself incessantly?

If your dog obsessively licks or chews at himself, providing there is not any underlying medical problem, your dog may be stressed, anxious or bored. Self-chewing and licking are often displacement behaviors. The dog does not have a positive outlet or alternative way to relieve his anxiety or boredom. Too little structure or too many corrections or reprimands, along with too little exercise, and lack of mental stimulation, will cause a dog to exhibit such behaviors.

Does your dog play? Can your dog be engaged in play?

Dogs who have been traditionally trained with choke, pinch or shock collars, or who have been subjected to a lot of leash jerking, are susceptible to depression. Corrective based training will cause dogs to inhibit their spontaneity and play behaviors. Punishment trained dogs tend not to play. Many do not know how. They rarely act animated, spontaneous, silly, or goofy. They are afraid to try new things or to show new behaviors for fear of corrections.

Does your dog look worried? Does your dog cower a lot? Does your dog approach you? When you approach your dog, does your dog look happy? Does your dog meet you only halfway, avoiding close interactions? Does your dog look away from you a lot?

If your dog looks worried, backs away from you, or cowers a lot, looks away from you and avoids your eye-contact, he is more than likely afraid of you. A fearful dog is not a happy dog. A dog will not trust a person he fears. If your dog does not trust you, your dog is probably afraid, anxious, depressed, or unhappy around you.  

Does your dog jump on you constantly or bark at you and other people in the family?

If so, your dog is probably getting mixed signals from you. Barking at you is a way to get your attention. Jumping is a submissive, attention-seeking behavior. It is not a confident gesture. If your dog is behaving this way around you, your dog is trying to appease you or seek your attention in the only ways he knows how. More than likely you are not leading the interactions or guiding your dog, but reacting to him. Your dog is anxious around you and does not know how to get what he wants without barking at you or jumping on you. These behaviors can be precursors to depression, especially if these behaviors result in punishments or too much crate time.

Dogs are more than likely depressed if:

They do not play. You cannot engage them in play.
They rarely make eye-contact with you.



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They avoid interactions.
They have no medical issues or health problems, yet they sleep more often than they are active or adventurous.

They are in a cage for more than 4 hours a day.
They are singletons, with owners who work fulltime. Hence, they are quintessential latch-key dogs constantly being left alone or at home by themselves.

They are scolded a lot.
They are over-reactive, hyper-active or get over-excited with any little trigger, and can’t seem to calm down afterwards. This is a sign of stress.

They constantly lick or chew at themselves. Underlying skin problems, poor nutrition, and/or sensitivity to certain foods also can trigger this behavior. Please have your dog seen by a veterinarian to rule out any medical problems.
They are trained with choke, pinch, or shock collars. If they disobey or do not respond properly, they are punished. They receive little to no positive reinforcement or play-training.

Dogs who are happy tend to have positive influences in their lives. They tend to engage in social play with other animals, including people. They usually are taught with rewards and praise. They get a lot of physical exercise and/or mental stimulation through activities, such as playing with other dogs, jogging, hiking, swimming, agility, or “go find” games. They are given friendly, gentle attention and are touched in a kind way through gentle stroking and/or massage. They do not spend much time alone and are not overly crated. When their owners go to work, they have a social companion to spend time with, such as another dog, or they have other animals in the family to be with.

By being aware of what causes depression and paying attention to your dog’s behaviors, you can make your dog happy and encourage him to enjoy life. By playing with your dog, teaching your dog how to play, exercising your dog, and giving your dog positive attention and feedback, through praise and other rewards, you can pave the way for a happy relationship with your dog.

About the Author: Alana Stevenson, MS is a professional Animal Behaviorist and humane Dog Trainer. She is the author of the "The Right Way the First Time, Teaching Your Dog Kindly and Humanely." She can be reaced at her website